9/4 – 9/17 Indie Rundown (‘Please Send Help!’ Edition)

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These are dark times here at The Fish. I’ve been in this foxhole, alone, for nearly a week now, struggling to hold our paper-thin line against the onslaught of lukewarm at best indies that continue to pour over the sandbagged wall and attempt to break me. Reader, I don’t expect any sympathy, as I volunteered myself for this duty, but even in the furthest stretches of my dark mind, I couldn’t fathom my predicament as I describe it to you now. I’m down to a handful of jokes, my vernacular is nearly exhausted, and reinforcements aren’t coming any time soon. Beyond the debris and smoking wreckage of No Man’s Land, sits at the ready 25 games, their code sharpened to a point and itching for reviewer blood, certain their wares are above criticism. I can hear them calling out in the night, bullets whizzing overhead, harmlessly, more just to rattle me, and it does, sending a chill through my bones. They attack in pairs to disguise their numbers, but each victory is short-lived, as I know there’s more out there. If it weren’t for the positively radiant Dead Pixels and fellow soldiers of the light, Apex and HACOTAMA, I wouldn’t even have survived this long. Some time after midnight, after the rain had finally slacked off, GOOLIN slipped under the barbed wire and crawled into my trench beside me. I had been dozing, saving my strength. I knew I should have kept watch, but my eyes were heavy. Some quick thinking and some stellar hand-to-hand combat from yours truly, reader, and I’ve lived to review another day. Still, fatigue is taking its toll. I’m not sure I can make it. I scrawled out the Rundown like love letters to my fictional girl and bequeathed them to the breezes. I hope they find you. Please leave any kind words, medals of valor, or care packages from home in the comments below. If I make it through this hell, I’ll send my thanks from whatever field hospital I end up at.

 

CATCH OF THE WEEK_

Dead Pixels (80 MSP)  Dev: CantStrafeRight

Zombies + No Ammo = Obvious No-No.

Whether you’re liking the trend or not, the undead are back on top once again. Playing Dead Island this week has reinvigorated my love of zombies and the genre when it’s done right, and Dead Pixels has come along and stamped an emphatic exclamation on that proclamation of love. It’s CotW here at GearFish not just because it’s incredibly fun, but because it does so much (and so well) with what it offers, and all for a buck!

From the screen above, it’s immediately apparent that this is a side-scrolling zombie shooter. That in and of itself, while potentially fun, probably won’t sell you. What will is the depth and strategy. Blasting away at waves of zombies is the theme, but ammo is scarce, so conservation and careful budgeting of your funds (zombies carry loose change, who knew) are needed if you expect to go far. Looting and reselling the items you find in abandoned houses and stores, while an integral part also, doesn’t come easy, as you can only carry a set amount of weight before you’re over-encumbered and your speed is sacrificed (a la Fallout). There’s also an RPG-lite upgrade system to boost your character’s skills like increasing your running speed or being able to do more damage with weapons. Even the music and sound effects are fantastic, and help to sell everything else. Beating the game gives you a mini-cliffhanger ending that alludes to free expansion DLC should the game reach its stated sales requirements (and it’s well on its way, I hear).

If I had to fault something, the local co-op, while fun (and appropriate, given the arcade feel), is no substitute for online play. And I am with the other reviews I’ve been reading, as the chaos and sheer numbers in the last level caused quite a bit of hiccups for me too, but it’s a minor distraction once you consider everything else here.

So, whatcha buyin? I’m buying Dead Pixels. It’s the total package. It charms with its witty (Resident Evil fans in particular will notice the references) self-awareness and 8-bit throwback aesthetics (much like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World pulled off), complimented by a grindhouse presentation and film-grain effect splashed over everything (protip: turn on the ‘intermission’ in options before you start, you’ll dig it). In short, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by passing this up. If this game existed in the arcades of my youth, I would have pumped hundreds of quarters into it.

 

WORTH PLAYING__

Apex (80 MSP) Dev: Riddlersoft

If you think your coffee is hot…

Confession time! Remember the escape sequence in Super Metroid, when the lava starts to rise up, and you’re busy trying to platform yourself the hell out of there, stopping only to save the animals before you board your ship? I kind of liked that whole stretch. (And no, I don’t consider that a spoiler, because if you haven’t played something in the Metroid series, you have no business being here.) Well, Apex reminds me of one extended Super Metroid escape sequence, with a few twists of its own.

Rather than just a straightforward chase to the top, or ‘apex’ as it were, you’re given powerups to aid you in your hazardous climb. You’ve got your ascent basics, like bombs to clear a path, or double-jump to… yeah, exactly. But in addition to collecting health and energy (double-jumps expend a bit of power with each use), you’ll also pick up time bombs, the absolutely essential component to going far (well, high) in Apex. You see, as you leap and bomb your way to the next well-placed checkpoint, the lava is inching ever closer to your little robot guy. Early on, you’ll laugh it off, staying well ahead of the heat, but eventually, as the jumps and obstacles take longer to bypass, you’ll thank the creators for the time bombs, turning what would be a frustrating enterprise into a manageable (and strategizing) run, buying precious seconds (four, to be precise) to make your next move, slowing the lava and the environment around you.

Apex dips slightly in fun the higher you get, as it succumbs to the recent formula of ‘screw all ideas of delightful progression and just throw the ‘hard at em’. (Hint: Save up your time bombs.) Online rankings would be nice, as the game tracks your score and height, as well as attempts made, but local’s all you get (there’s a rumor online leaderboards will be added). And though I’ve yet to reach the top, the fact that Apex gives you a chance to flex your skill instead of merely crushing you with obtuse design gives me reason enough to recommend it.

HACOTAMA (240 MSP) Dev: YO1KOMORI

Prettiest balls I’ve seen in a while. 

If you haven’t yet tired of the puzzlers in the indie marketplace (I really have, but I’ll make another exception here) HACOTAMA is easy on the eyes, with nice graphics, shadowing, and nifty reflections (at the expense of some major slowdown, frown face). You’ll use your avatar to navigate the 3D landscape, pushing said reflecting balls onto little floating lights, which complete the level. Sometimes you’ll simply push them into position, other times you’ll need to get on top and ‘rodeo’ them over.

The twist here is that you’ll never fall off the stage, but rather ‘hug’ the next edge or block, paving the way for some clever brain-teasers that’ll have you thinking from all angles. Given that constantly changing perspective, it helps to have an unobstructed view of the field. Unfortunately the camera here is shoddy, letting you swing left or right only. Full control over the view would’ve made it a lot easier at some points, but I adjusted to it.

There’s a total of 40 puzzles, with your standard allotment of tutorial, beginner, intermediate, and ‘we hate you’ hard as heck. Despite my initial protests at seeing another puzzler, I had fun with it. All in all, it’s gorgeous and talented, and should keep you busy for a little while.

 

IT’S….. FUNCTIONAL_

Ninjah (80 MSP) Dev: Big Stupid Face

The classic story of a Ninja(h), thwarted by colors. Yep.

Your first impression may tell you that it’s an N+ clone, and if you’re going to mimic a ninja platformer with minimalist presentation, N+ is a solid way to go. But while it shares its looks and basic premise, and brings some interesting ideas to the table, the execution and controls a re lacking a certain polish that’s desperately needed in a twitch / reflex fest like Ninjah.

While you’ve got your basic movement and jump, you’re also given a rope and/or gun (to use as a sort of boost) to traverse the stages in search of your lowest time. Some levels offer different variations, such as movement only, or using only the rope, zones that the rope can’t pass through, etc. You can also only touch one type of floor at a time, switching off / on colors as you need them to progress. It’s all a very novel approach, but there are definite flow and balance issues here, pouring on the difficulty directly out of the tutorial stages when it looks as if there’s more than enough levels in store to ease things in one at a time. Worsening this are the controls, which feel stiff / otherwise off, a problem since the game requires you to really stick the landings (or avoid them, depending on your currently selected flavor from the palette). I like the ideas the game has, but its penchant for multiple play options to accommodate for and unfair difficulty makes this a try and see what you think verdict from me.

Elemental Wizard (80 MSP) Dev: Boosted Games

A twin-stick wizard shooter! Each enemy has a weakness, and using the correct element five times in a row grants you a combo bonus… though I’m not sure of what that does. Of course, you can just spam any attack you’d like. That works as well. Picking up runestones nets you points to spend towards steeling your wizard against the untold orcs, undead, and skeletons ahead. It not much of a looker, and the sound the wizard makes when he dies is incredibly comical, but the mentioned bit of depth and customization give EW a fighting chance to impress somebody, just not me.

Primary Potions (80 MSP) Dev: Hydra Games Studio

After waking up from some kind of trauma, you become an indentured servant… er… apprentice, to the greatest alchemist in the known world (not really). One of the perks of that job is you’ll be mixing potions (by adding or distilling colors! yay!) to fill customers’ orders. It’s not bad (there’s a cheat sheet if you need it), and the story / dialogue looks good for a laugh, but there are much better puzzlers on the marketplace already.

Happy (80 MSP) Dev: Solloman

Happy is a tough one to review. It feels like a game, but doesn’t follow the traditional guidelines. There’s no score-keeping, no menus or hub, no saved progress for that matter, but one of that is really needed. There’s only a handful of ‘stages’ anyway. Because it has to subscribe to a genre, it’s a platformer. You move left, right, and jump with A. You’re a guy (who doesn’t look happy, ironically) who seems to be a snowman and / or swallowed a balloon (Ok, I wouldn’t be happy either) and now spends his days rolling around through a mixture of okay / strange art. There’s a few jumps / ramps along the way, and red peppers (?) that briefly boost your speed. After rolling into a cupcake with a candle on top (??), the stage ends, and Well Done! flashes across the screen. Thumbs up for positive reinforcement?

It’s an odd one for sure, but all the proceeds are going to a pet rescue charity, which basically negates any chance at criticism. Hating on this would be like punching an adorable puppy in the face, and I’m not about to be that guy. I may be getting a bit soft, but trading a dollar towards a cause for fifteen or so minutes of somewhat dulling fun seems like a worthy deed, better than giving loose change away at that busy intersection to the born-again guys that quote scripture and slip you melted M&Ms or some variant of a mint in return. Happy won’t make you happy, but face it, your karma could probably use the bump.

Aron’s Journey in Dreamland (240 MSP) Dev: Meruvia Game Studio

Trust me, Aron, I work in cemeteries. Once the skeletons come out, it’s time to go.

Here you’ll join adorable little green guy Aron in the humorous story of his holiday to the countryside, where he winds up knee-deep in the kind of trouble that only mascot platforming can solve! My enthusiasm may be a little overstated, yet I found myself enjoying this game. It’s got 8-bit-tacular graphics and some snazzy art, with decent variety in the levels / layouts from what I’ve seen, so there’s reason to hope… and I’m a pessimist!

Yes, it’s still a mascot platformer (and one that borrows heavily from those that came before it), but it’s inoffensive. I can’t help but get the feeling AJiDL may devolve into a jumping nightmare rather than a casual dreamland (there we go, that sounds more like me), but I’m giving you permission, reluctantly. You may try it.

Get To Tha Choppa Twooo!!2 (80 MSP) Dev: So So Dev Games

Yeah, I was yelling the Schwarzenegger line continuously while playing the demo. Pretty much required. So, you’re endlessly running forward, being chased by zombies (natch), shooting the ones in front of you, jumping over mines and avoiding missiles from the choppa, building your score the longer you survive. Not much to it, but there is a sort of innocuous entertainment to it. And it’s got both friends and global leaderboard support (something I wish other indies would implement), so that’s swell.

Only problem is, it plays / looks / sounds exactly like the original. So my beef, So So Dev Games, is, besides the female protagonist and novelty powerups, why the sequel?

A Pimp RPG (80 MSP) Dev: HobbiSoft

What did the five fingers say to the face? Slaaaaappp!

First off, no hoes were harmed in the writing of this impression, and their recruitment for this game was entirely legal. Nobody’s rights were infringed upon. Don’t want no ACLU up in here talkin’ a whole bunch of shit that I ain’t tryin’ to hear. With that whole thing out tha way, yes, everything you can infer from the game’s title is true. You are a pimp, more specifically, Daddy K, out to  save the city of Oakland from a corrupt mayor. Ain’t got no time for messin’ around. Crude graphics aside, there’s leveling up, spell-casting, loot to be found… and turn-based battles that seem to go on forever. It never looks like I’m getting anywhere once I’m outside of combat either, but it’s got enough humor going for it that I’m going to say it’s worth at least a glance to see if it offends your decency.

President John America (240 MSP) Dev: Maverick Games

President John America is like a playable episode of American Dad, where, as the newly-elected president of a failing US economy, you’ll buy / sell products in an effort to pay down the national debt and repair America’s standing in the world by a certain end date, using whatever means necessary, be that humanitarian or via the gun, so, kind of like an exaggerated way things are done now, except not at all exaggerated. You can bomb / invade to drive up profits, schmooze or threaten to work a better deal, also unlock special gear that modifies various abilities, even hunt for a certain terrorist. There’s a lot going on here. Solid mechanics and design aside, there’s also some seriously hilarious writing and voice acting in PJA. I was laughing. My props to the developers on that.

So why is it relegated to ‘Functional’ status, you ask? Because… unless I’m not finding it…. there’s no way to save progress! For a game to move at a snail’s pace, requiring likely hours of work to get anywhere of consequence, how can there be no saving? Do you know something I don’t? Am I missing it? I can find anything on-screen or in the menus about it. Is there an auto-save that happens once you reach a certain plateau? There has to be some mistake. If so, I’ll gladly change my story, but as of now, this in essence kills the game for me. Somebody tell me I’m wrong, seriously, as I want to put this in the ‘Worth Playing’ category.

Balls N Walls (80 MSP) Dev: David Tse

Remember where I stated earlier that I’m stuffed from consuming too many indie puzzlers? Well, Balls N Walls is a perfect example of that recent gluttony. Granted, it’s not the most in-depth puzzle game around (you are just trapping and / or isolating bouncing balls), and yeah, it’s functional in that sense, but that’s the thing, it’s just entirely functional. You score points for retaking an area of the puzzle, scoring higher for using less walls to achieve that goal, not losing lives, etc., but it’s vanilla. This should be (and probably is) an okay flash game.

Figure 8 Racing (80 MSP) Dev: DennisMac

I haven’t play a lot of racers yet, so I can’t really compare Figure 8 Racing to the other indies available. I can tell you that the graphics are decently done, the tracks are okay, the cars look good but handle so-so (some iffy controls / turns, on default but especially if you mess with the tire / gravity options) though the fact that it offers four-player split-screen, as well as soccer and pool mini-games, says enough about the developer’s faith in this that it could be the racing game you’re looking for, if you’re in the market for one. There’s worse ways to spend a dollar, and I can see this as a fun diversion with friends.

 

RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!_

Monkey Madness (80 MSP) Dev: Phoebit

The whole trick is to work your way to the top of the level (dodging enemies and gaps) while a literal production line of bricks runs by above you. The combination of having the floor drop out from under you (there’s no way to jump over these without hitting your head and falling down a level or more) and / or waiting for an opening to jump higher doesn’t bode well for those seeking fun in their games. I like the powerups the game includes, and the idea to add ‘awards’ (achievements) is laudable, but earning those would require playing this game more than I already have, and I am not prepared to do that. Screw the monkeys, this is just madness.

King’s Cup (80 MSP) Dev: Dwarf Biter

Well, it’s a drinking game, so I suppose handle that knowledge as you wish. The convenience of not dragging out the cards is one way to look at it, another way would be to not buy it at all. This belongs online as an instructional video for college kids at best, as indie ‘game’ it is not, although I bet the more you drink / ‘play’ this, the more it starts to look like Gears of War 3, so it’s like an early release! Nice!

Play As You Go (80 MSP) Dev: Scrubby Fresh Studios L.L.C.

A collection of three mini-games that are straight-up derivatives of other well-known game types (space shooter, memory game, brick breaker) that do nothing new or exciting to make this worth your time and points. This feels and plays like a school project that should have stayed as such.

2D Math Panic! (80 MSP) Dev: OnekSoft Games

As an educational tool, I’d give 2D Math Panic! a nod. Simple mathematical equations flash on screen, and you steer your ‘ship’ into the correct answer as it falls down, avoiding the incorrect ones. There’s powerups to increase / slow speed, shrink you ship, etc. Easy enough. Cute. It’s not really for ‘gaming’ in the typical sense, so there’s little point in critiquing it as such. But even as a learning experience, it doesn’t do an adequate job. First off, your ‘ship’ is rather large, as are the ‘answer’ guys, so once the screen gets cluttered (as the difficulty progresses), it makes it hard to navigate into the right one without hitting a few duds. Even so, a kid could manage, but the final nail in the coffin here comes once you get the right answer. Another question immediately pops up, and if the right answer now (which was wrong a second before) is at the bottom of the screen already, you’re penalized for missing it, despite really no way to prevent it. I appreciate the idea of teaching math in a ‘game’ format, but you’re going to give some kid headaches and a mini-depression with design like this.

Avatar Street Basketball 2 (80 MSP) Dev: Bionic-Thumbs

ASB2 is a bare-bones basketball game (well, shooting baskets for high score), starring your avatar (sigh), and includes a mode that has zombies (face palm). Shooting and making your shots doesn’t really boil down to skill, as once you find the range, you can pretty much sink every attempt thereafter. Making five baskets in a row sets the ball on fire, with shouts of what I believe to be are ‘F–k your mother‘ in Spanish, which is troubling, because she didn’t do anything to deserve that. I’ll pass on this one. (<— Ah, see what I did there?)

Street Survival (80 MSP) Dev: steveo0209

You’re a guy in a blue hoodie shooting at angry red vans trying to run you over. If you were wearing a red hoodie, there’d probably be peaceful coexistence. You score not by shooting these vans, but by being on the right side of the screen, and only by moving. You get five hits, and never mind that your gun fires extremely slow, or that the vans don’t have to be in your direct path to damage you, or even that near unavoidable waves of them will probably overwhelm you in your attempt to score points. There is no payoff here.

Avalis Dungeon 2 (240 MSP) Dev: Team Shuriken

The info on AD2 claims an epic and sexy adventure (an idea I can get fully behind), but all I see if your typical choose your own adventure ‘story’ with static backgrounds (although the art is done well), and progression that’s trial-and-error-and-start-over more than anything else. Add a one-button ‘guess what to attack with’ fighting system, and you’re set with what you need to know. The demo doesn’t delve very deep, so it’s tough to get a sense of where the game is headed / what it fully does. Based on the taste I got, you’re not missing much other than barely-clothed buxom ladies, but if you liked or bought Chapter 1, clearly you’re seeing something I’m not, and you’ll probably enjoy this.

Strategic Combat (80 MSP) Dev: All-templates.biz

Strategic Combat pits the US against Russia in a turn-based strategy game that operates under the guise of a game of chess (and thus the strategy!), but that’s actually an excuse SC uses to become a top down shooter that’s done piss-poorly, with dull, uninteresting art / graphics and practically nonexistent animation. Even the addition of online play can’t help this one. With more development time it might have fared better, but as is, it’s just lackluster.

Call Me (80 MSP) Dev: Utopioneer Games

Oh look, another dating / how to talk to girls Sim. Haven’t seen that before. The game measures your personality after each conversation, which I suppose gives you some incentive (as if you’re unclear what kind of person you are if you’re a dick during conversation), but it’s all familiar ground. Even after I told the girl (Lola, nice gal) I liked ‘killing people’ as a hobby, she still wanted to know my favorite color. Her correct response should have been, ‘No, I won’t call you. In fact, I’m going to call the police, because you’re genuinely creepy and probably unstable given your ‘hobby’ (she’d use air quotes here, to emphasize). ‘Who says stuff like that, even in a bar setting? Even as a joke, which it’s not, because you said it with a straight face. And on a more personal level, you’ve got a face not even your mother could love.’ (Then she, like I, would walk out on this game, shaking our heads, then go home and eat a quart of ice cream. Comfort food, you know.)

SEncounter (80 MSP) Dev: WSBSoftware

It’s an indie FPS (kinda cool) with passable graphics. That’s the good. Everything else is terrible, from the inexcusable combat (one of the most neglected, complete lack of polish systems I’ve had the displeasure of sampling) to the bland layout and enemy design. The sound effects made me cringe. Again, this feels like a demo / practice run that could have eventually led up to a full release, not dumped on the market as is.

Angry Fish (80 MSP) Dev: Frozen Software

Warning: You will be breaking copyright law just by playing this. Well, not actually, but you’ll be setting a bad example. If you insist, or if curiosity gets the better of you, you’ll find it’s the same game you already know, going by a different name and superficial look, yet not as sharp or even as intuitive as you’d expect. This is not a parody. It’s just junk. Form your own idea or don’t bother. I have nothing else to say about it.

GOOLIN (80 MSP) Dev: LuckySoft

  • Step 1: Do NOT find and download the trial for GOOLIN.
  • Step 2: Go on living your life.

 



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Author: Tim Hurley View all posts by
Patron of the Indie. Horde Mode Enthusiast. Purveyor of Finely-Worded Reviews. Nice Guy. Also writes at theXBLIG.com --- Now playing: Binary Domain, Aqualibrium (XBLIG), Penny Arcade 3 (XBLIG), Apple Jack 2 (XBLIG), radiangames Inferno (XBLIG and iOS).
  • Anonymous

    Hurley, ladies and gentleman.  My personal hero and beacon of light in an expanding darkness.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jack.murray.5851 Jack Murray

    My son is almost 4 and he’s an Angry Birds head.  So naturally I perused the XBox indie games for a close relative.  Angry Fish is addictive, as was Fishcraft, and Angry Fish Deep Sea.  I am currently frantically searching your reviews for Angry Bird-like games that I can enjoy with him.  It took us a week to beat all 3 Fish series games, but I had fun doing it and my son still talks about it.

    • http://twitter.com/HurleyEffect Tim Hurley

      Well, I always found them way too derivative to be considered good, but if you and your son enjoyed the games, hey, who am I to stand in the way. I don’t believe there’s any other games here like that that we covered, sorry.

      You are (somewhat) in luck though. There is a game coming to XBLIG in July from Gigaloth Games, which looks to be Angry Birds, but with produce… called… Produce Wars. Hmmm, fancy that. I’ll even throw in a link with some info:

      http://gigaloth.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/welcome-to-the-world-of-produce-wars/ 

      Glad to hear you enjoyed the games, and thanks for checking us out. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/jack.murray.5851 Jack Murray

        Thank you very much.  I have downloaded countless XBLIG games with your recommendation, whether the games are horrible or not for some reason I love them(with the exception of Skyfish II Eat Your Peas, which is the worst game I’ve played, regardless of gaming console).  That link you just turned me on to is spot on what I was looking for, you also suggested in another article that Star Ninja was not that bad, and that’s what we are currently working on.  That and a game named Little Monsters, and Zombie Sniper.  Basically any game that reduces the number of buttons on the controller until he gets warmed up enough to whoop me in NBA 2k16 or something. 

        • http://twitter.com/HurleyEffect Tim Hurley

          No problem. :) Shame I can’t think of any other games off the top of my head that would fit that category, but they’re out there. Star Ninja’s a good one, but yeah, avoid all the Skyfish (I think there’s three or four now) games like they’re the plague.